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Gravel Gear

Big-ride review: Specialized S-Works Crux gravel bike

This sub-16-pound dirt race rig is exceptional for going up fast, but don't look for bells, whistles, or storage here.

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Pros

Ultra-light, excellent parts package including a power meter, versatile geometry

Cons

No accommodations for storage, pricey


Size Reviewed

56cm

Weight

15.9lb

Price

$12,000

Brand

Specialized


The Specialized S-Works Crux is a ruthless distillation of performance gravel. Crazy light, stiff, dressed in top-end parts and a power meter, with all things deemed superfluous chucked over the side in pursuit of said crazy lightness. You won’t find bolts for a top-tube bag here, much less integrated down-tube storage, or suspension.

A 56cm frame weighs a claimed 725g. Is this the pinnacle of gravel performance? That’s debatable, based on your definition of gravel. But it is indeed the lightest stock gravel bike out there. And the price tag on the S-Works bike will lighten your wallet considerably, too.

I weighed my 56cm test bike at 15.9lb, even less than the advertised weight. For reference, this is lighter than many road bikes, and it’s noticeable not just when hoisting the bike but when accelerating or standing up to climb, and swinging the bike side to side.

For a test, I did a mixed-surface ride with 12,000 feet of climbing, and I loved most everything about the frame and the build.

(Photo: Chris Case)

New geo — built for 200 miles or 60 minutes?

Gravel bikes have only been a thing for a few years, but the segment has already splintered into sub-segments. Much like road bikes branched into race, endurance, and aero, gravel bikes have race machines, bikepacking steeds, and now — we are seeing with Cannondale and Specialized — gravel bikes that are put forward to do double-duty as cyclocross bikes. It’s a funny proposal, after years of brands’ insistence that gravel and cyclocross were two totally different things.

Also read:

Here, Specialized has continued the name of its ’cross line, the Crux, and has tweaked the geometry a bit to be gravel friendly, too. Most notably, there’s tire clearance for up to 47mm tires, not just the UCI maximum of 33mm. (Previous Crux bikes could squeeze in tires up to 38mm.) Compared to the Specialized Diverge, with an ultra-low bottom bracket drop of 85mm, the new Crux has 76mm of drop.

Specialized’s 38mm Pathfinder Pro tubeless tires roll quickly and have plenty of clearance on the rated-for-47mm Crux.

The top tube is about a centimeter longer, and the stems are a centimeter shorter. So this 56cm bike, for instance, has a 56.8cm effective top tube and comes with a 100mm stem. For steering, the head tube angle of 72 degrees (for a 56cm) puts it in the quick-handling box for off-pavement riding.

So how does it ride?

On the up and up in Colorado

I put on my trusty Shimano XT pedals and a 120mm stem, and my position was dialed. The bike comes with my favorite S-Works Power saddle, a Quarq power, and the excellent Pathfinder Pro tires (which we sent to Wheel Energy for an upcoming feature similar to our Paris-Roubaix tire test).

My friend Chris Case had cooked up a route for the day, the YOLOrado 14er, an homage to the YOLOmites 5000 we did in the Dolomites, that was in turn cooked up by the Grubers and Igor Tavella. In both cases, the objective is to basically climb your face off with as much off-road and as little distance as possible. Seemed like a great test for the Crux.

Nothing aero or storage-minded here. (Photo: Ben Delaney)

After initially making fun of bar and frame bags a few years back, now I’m in the habit of using them for big days of riding, and sometimes gravel racing, depending on the course. Coming off the Trek Checkpoint with its internal storage and integrated frame bag mounts, it was funny to be looking at a naked frame without any such arrangements. So I strapped on a saddlebag and an Apidura frame bag whose zipper was completely ruined from the mud of The Mid South.

The SRAM Red XPLR group has a 10-44 12-speed cassette and this bike comes with a 40t ring. I thought the 40t was too small. I was wrong. I raced with a 44t XPLR for SBT GRVL, and that fit well on that course, as I could pedal a reasonable cadence in a fast group and still climb the steepest bits without bogging down too much.

On Chris’ climb-happy route, I was so grateful to have the 40-44 bottom gear, and I still found myself clicking the left shifter, looking for relief.

A stock power meter is appropriate for a bike of this price, and as an added benefit, it’s easier to change chainrings than with the non-power-meter XPLR cranks, where the ring is integrated into the crank.

A $12,000 bike absolutely should come with a power meter. (Photo: Ben Delaney)

Rattling around on dirt, I appreciated the shape of the Terra bars, which have a flat top and a super-shallow drop. The latter allows for great access to the brakes on the tops and in the drops, in addition to minimizing the change in your torso angle when you move between the two. There is also a tiny bit of flare to the drops, which I like.

While the shallow drop is exaggerated, the flare is not. I found it to be an excellent bar for gravel.

Climbing on this bike feels wonderful. Power to weight is a thing, and that includes bike weight for sure, especially rotational weight. The Terra CLX wheels are feathery, and while there is a bit of welcome vertical flex in the Alpinist seatpost, the frame’s stiffness belies its skimpy weight. In short: this is a highly efficient machine.

When the road pointed back down, the bike’s minimalist nature was also apparent. Compared to the low Diverge with big tires and a FutureShock, the Crux required more careful steering and provided less comfort on rattling descents.

(Photo: Chris Case)

Bottom line

The new Crux is a masterpiece in efficiency, and this S-Works model spares no expense on lightweight performance. While many gravel bikes lean towards practicality with storage, the Crux is singlemindedly focused on minimalism.